Employee innovation behaviour has been defined as the intentional behaviour of an individual to introduce and/or apply new ideas, products, processes, and procedures to his or her work role, unit, or organization (West & Farr, 1989, 1990b). Examples of employee innovative behaviour in the workplace include introducing new technologies and techniques, suggesting new ways to achieve objectives, trying new ways of performing work tasks, and facilitating the implementation of new ideas.
Several points in the definition on employee innovation proposed by West and Farr (1989, 1990b) are worth noting. Firstly, employee innovative behaviours include behaviours pertaining to both the introduction and the application or implementation of new ideas, products, processes and procedures by the employees. This definition thus includes a variety of behaviours pertaining to the innovation processes in an organisation.
Secondly, this definition takes into account both technical innovations (the introduction or application of new technologies, products, and services) and administrative innovations (the introduction or application of new procedures and policies) (Van de Ven, 1986). Technical innovations are innovations that occur in the primary work activity of the organization; administrative innovations are innovations that occur in the social system of an organization (Daft, 1978; Damanpour & Evan, 1984). Examples of technical innovation include the implementation of an idea for a new product or the introduction of new elements in an organization’s production process. Examples of administrative innovation include the implementation of new policies of recruitment, allocating resources, and reward. Individual innovative behaviours could be behaviours pertaining to the introduction or implementation of both technical and administrative innovations.
Thirdly, the new ideas, products, processes, and procedures being introduced or implemented do not have to be absolutely new to the field. They only need to be new relative to the unit of adoption. For example, an employee is innovating when he introduces an IT system that has not been used in his organization before. This technology doesn’t have to be a new invention and could have been used in other organizations before. And finally, innovative behaviours include not only those behaviours leading to innovations within the individual’s work role but also behaviours that initiate or facilitate innovations in higher level units such as the individual’s work group, department, or the entire organization (West & Farr 1989.
2.2 Construction of the Terminology Used in the Dissertation
Several similar terminologies to employee innovation exist in the literature. A brief discussion about how those terminologies are similar to and different from the framework of employee innovative behaviour will prevent potential confusion and help our understanding of employee innovative behaviour. One similar construct is individual creative behaviour. Creativity refers to the production and introduction of novel and useful ideas, products, or processes (Amabile, 1988; Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Shalley, 1995; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). Individual creative behaviours are behaviours pertaining to the generation of such novel and useful ideas, products, or processes. Creative behaviour is closely linked to innovative behaviour and it can be considered as one type of innovative behaviour. However, innovative behaviours include a broader range of behaviours than just creative behaviours. Innovative behaviours include both the introduction of self-generated ideas (creative behaviour) and the introduction and implementation of new ideas generated by other people and organizations. Creativity requires absolute novelty of the idea whereas innovation only requires relative novelty of the idea to the unit of adoption (King, 1990; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993).Therefore, adopting a new policy from another organization to the current organization would be innovative but not creative. Also, the definition of creativity includes an inherent requirement for the idea or product to be useful. The phenomenon of innovative behaviour doesn’t include a usefulness judgment in itself. An innovative attempt could result in different possible consequences for the organization. Yet an ineffective innovation is still an innovation. Also, creative behaviour concerns the generation of ideas whereas innovative behaviour includes both the generation or introduction and the application or implementation of the new ideas (Amabile, 1988; Scott & Bruce, 1994; Zhou, 1998, 2003).
Another related concept to employee innovation is role innovation. Role innovation is the introduction of significant new behaviours into a pre-existing role (West, 1987a, 1987b). Role innovation is usually studied in the context of job change and relocation (e.g., Allen & Meyer, 1990; Ashford & Saks, 1996; Munton & West, 1995; Nicholson, 1984; West & Rushton, 1989). The reference for comparison in role innovation is the pre-existing job role. It is considered an act of role innovation, if the way the current job holder does his job is different from the way the previous job holder did it or from the way other people currently do the same job in the same organization. Role innovation is related to innovative behaviour in the sense that introducing new behaviours and procedures into an existing work role is one type of innovative behaviour.
However, these two concepts are still different. Role innovation only changes processes within an individual’s work role. Innovative behaviours, however, is not limited to innovations occurring in the work role alone but also in the department, unit, and the organization. In addition, all innovative behaviours cannot be considered as role innovation. For example, developing new ideas and products is part of the job profile for some organizational positions (e.g. the R&D department). People in those job positions routinely introduce new products and procedures into the organization and therefore frequently engage in innovative behaviour. However, since it is part of their existing job or work role, those behaviours are not considered as role innovation.
Another similar concept is personal initiative. Frese, Kring, Soose, and Zempel (1996: 38) defined personal initiative as ‘a behavior syndrome resulting in an individual’s taking an active and self-starting approach to work and going beyond what is formally required in a given job. More specifically, personal initiative is characterized by the following aspects: it (1) is consistent with the organization’s mission; (2) has a long-term focus; (3) is goal-directed and action-oriented; (4) is persistent in the face of barriers and setbacks, and (5) is self-starting and proactive.’ Some individual’s behaviour in the workplace such as voluntary suggestion of new ideas to the organization can be seen as both personal initiative and innovative behaviours. However, not all personal initiative behaviours are innovative behaviours. Personal initiative could include both quantitative and qualitative initiatives. Quantitative initiatives are those activities that only require additional energy. Those activities do result into the application of new ideas, products, and procedures into the workplace and therefore are not innovative behaviours. Moreover, personal initiative is voluntary in nature of the behaviour whereas innovative behaviours do not have to be beyond the formal job requirement.
In a nutshell, creative behaviour, role innovation and personal initiative are all related to but different from the construct of individual innovative behaviour. Differentiating these constructs will further clarify the concept of employee innovative behaviour. At the same time, the existing similarities suggest the possibility that the literatures devoted to these related constructs could inform research on innovative behaviours.
2.3 Employee Innovation and Image Outcome Expectations
Why do employees innovate in an organisation? A piece of wisdom reiterated by learning theories and motivation theories is the importance of outcome expectations in determining human innovative behaviour. The operant conditioning theory of learning stresses the importance of the Law of Effect, which states that behaviour which appears to lead to a positive consequence tends to be repeated, while behaviour that leads to a negative consequence tends not to be repeated (Thorndike, 1911). Bandura’s social learning theory (1977) proposed that people learn about the consequences expected for certain behaviours not only from their own experiences but also from observing others in the workplace. To summarize, operant conditioning theory and social learning theory advocates that people develop outcome expectations of certain behaviours either from direct experiences or from vicarious learning. The outcome expectations, in turn, guide their future behaviour in the workplace.
The effects of outcome expectations on behaviour are more directly addressed in Vroom’s expectancy theory of motivation (1964). The renowned expectancy theory of motivation suggests that an individual’s motivational force to perform an act is determined by his expectancies that the act will be followed by the attainment of certain first-level outcomes (expectancy), that these first-level outcomes will lead to certain second-level outcomes (instrumentality), and the value of these second-level outcomes (valence). The importance of outcome expectations is depicted by the concept of ‘expectancy,’ which is a subjective belief concerning the likelihood that a behaviour will lead to particular first-level outcomes (Vroom, 1964). A similar observation of the importance of outcome expectations in affecting individual behavioural intentions can also be found in Ajzen and Fishbein’s theory of reasoned action (1980).
Outcome expectations guide innovative behaviours in the workplace. In the case of employee innovative behaviour, what are the major outcome expectations that affect employee innovation at work? Two major types of outcome expectations will impact employees’ decision to engage in innovative behaviours: expected performance outcomes and expected image outcomes. Expected performance outcomes are employees’ expectations of how his or her innovative behaviours would affect the performance or efficiency of the employee’s work role or unit. Expected image outcomes are an individual’s expectations about how his or her innovative behaviours would affect other organization members’ perceptions of him or her. Expected image outcomes are an individual’s expectations about how his or her innovative behaviours would affect the perceptions of the other members of the organisation towards him or her.
The linkage of performance and image outcomes at the individual level is comparable to the differentiation between organization efficiency and legitimacy as suggested by institutional theory (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). The organizations compete for social as well as economic fitness in the institutional perspective (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Whereas the economic fitness or organization efficiency frontier enhance the organization’s profits and competitive advantages, social fitness brings legitimacy which helps the organization gain stability, resources and hence survival. Several studies have recently brought such an institutional perspective into the study of innovation processes by highlighting the impacts of both efficiency outcomes and potential legitimacy outcomes on innovation adoption decisions. Tolbert and Zucker (1983) found that an early adoption of civil service is related to internal organizational requirements while late adoption is related to institutional definitions of legitimate structural form Westphal, Gulati and Shortell (1997) in their research work found out that early adopters can customize Total Quality Management (TQM) practices for efficiency gains, while later adopters gain legitimacy from adopting the normative form of TQM programs. Results from both the empirical studies conclude that an organization’s decision to adopt an innovation is influenced by both internal efficiency considerations (i.e., the efficiency outcome) and external legitimacy considerations (i.e., the image outcome). The results not only supports the importance of considering both outcomes in the innovation process but also suggests that their relative impact on innovation adoption will vary in different situations.
Abrahamson (1991) suggested a typology that highlights the dominant efficient choice paradigm and other less dominant perspectives that can be used to guide innovation research. The dominant paradigm is the efficient choice perspective (i.e., the efficiency-oriented perspective), which conceptualises organizations as rational entities who always adopt innovations that can improve organization efficiency or performance. On the other hand, two other perspectives – the fashion and fad perspectives – stresses on the importance of social-political processes by suggesting that organizations sometimes adopt innovations for their symbolic meaning, signalling innovativeness, rather than to boost organizations’ economic performance. The impacts of expected performance outcomes and expected image outcomes on employee innovative behaviour represents the efficiency-oriented and the social-political motives for employee innovation, respectively (see Figure 1).
Outcome Expectations and Employee Innovation Behaviour
Note: Except for those marked with negative signs, all links in the model are hypothesized to be positive.
Source: Diagram adapted from Innovation and creativity at work: Psychological and organizational strategies by West & Farr (1990a).
2.4 The Efficiency-Oriented Perspective of Expected Performance Outcomes:
The efficiency-oriented perspective in understanding employee innovation behaviour suggests that one major reason people innovate is to bring performance gains. Although assumed to be one of the major motivational reasons in this dominating paradigm, few studies have directly tested the effect of such expected performance outcomes on innovative behaviour. This dissertation provides a hypothesis for testing the outcome of the effects of such expectation and on employee innovation behaviour at work. Expected image outcomes have been considered different from the concept of subjective norm in the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980) in this study. The subjective norm concept refers to a person’s belief about whether significant others think that he or she should engage in the behaviour. Although both the concepts are related to potential social outcomes of employees’ behaviour, expected image outcomes refer to expected perceptions from a potential audience (i.e., other employees in the organization) rather than the concern for the approval or disapproval of others. Image outcome expectations can be influenced by other factors as well such as relationship quality, peer expectations, and job requirements.
The Literature available on impression management provides an interesting distinction between defensive and assertive impression management (Arkin, 1981; Schlenker, 1980). Tetlock & Manstead (1985:61) provides a good discussion on this distinction: ‘Defensive impression management is to protect an employees’ established social image; it is triggered by negative affective states such as embarrassment and shame. Whereas assertive impression management is designed to improve an employees’ social image; it is triggered by perceived opportunities for creating favourable impressions on others.’ Therefore the difference between avoiding image risks and pursuing image enhancement represent different affective states and individual motives.
Consulting the impression management literature, the dissertation hypothesizes two major types of image outcome expectations that may affect an employee’s decision to engage in innovative behaviour. Firstly, expected image loss risk will constrain people from demonstrating innovative behaviour. An employee may decide to ‘play it safe’ and try and avoid being innovative in order to look socially appropriate and prevent potential image loss. Showing such a tendency to avoid negative evaluations represents the protective self-presentation (Arkin, 1981) or defensive impression management motive (Tetlock & Manstead, 1985). The self-protective motive shows that expected image risks will restrict the tendency of an employee to engage in innovative behaviour (refer Figure 1).
On the other hand, people may feel the need to innovate because they may see potential opportunity to enhance work efficiency. For example, a high-performing employee may want to introduce a new work technique because he or she perceives opportunities to further improve efficiency. Contrary to the problem-driven construct this latter construct is consistent with the more contemporary vision-guided change model (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987; Cummings & Worley, 2005; Watkins & Mohr, 2001) and possibility-driven logic of change (Ford & Ford, 1994). This approach suggests that changes can be initiated not only to solve existing problems but also to pursue further improvement toward an ideal vision.
Efficiency and performance improvement increases the competitiveness and success of an employee. Regardless of the purpose being is to fix existing performance problems or to explore potential benefits, people will be more likely to engage in innovative behaviour if they expect that the introduction of new ideas, products, procedures, or processes would bring positive performance outcomes to his or her work or job role (refer Figure 1). Therefore expected performance outcomes represent the efficiency-oriented perspective in understanding innovation. This approach suggests that people innovate because they expect positive results in performance gains.
The following hypothesis has been developed based on analysing the above literature on the efficiency-oriented perspective of expected performance outcomes:
Hypothesis 1: Expected positive performance outcomes are positively related to employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
2.5 The Social-Political Perspective of Expected Image Outcomes
Expected image outcomes are an individual’s expectations about how his or her innovative behaviour would impact the perceptions of the other members of the organisation about him or her. Ashford, Rothbard, Piderit, and Dutton (1998), consider expected image outcomes as Employees may engage in innovative behaviour as a conscious effort to improve image. The employees engaging in innovative behaviour to pursue image gain depict the assertive impression management motive (Rioux & Penner, 2001). An apt example will be employees suggesting new ideas to managers to appear competent and conscientious. Sutton and Hargadon’s (1996) designed a study to analyse self-enhancing motive and engineers’ competitive behaviours in brainstorming sessions. The self enhancing motive suggests that expected image gains will increase employee innovative behaviour at work (refer Figure 1). In line with the social-political perspective in understanding innovation, both avoiding image risks (the self-protective impression management motive) and pursuing image gains (the self-enhancing impression management motive) emphasize the importance of social-political considerations in determining employee innovative behaviour in the workplace.
The following hypothesis has been developed based on analysing the above literature on the social-political perspective of expected image of expected image outcomes –
Hypothesis 2(a): Expected image risks are negatively related to employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 2(b): Expected image gains are positively related to employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
2.6 Conceptual Model for Employee Innovation Behaviour
Performance and image outcome expectations are proximal determinants which determine employee innovation in the workplace and also serve as intermediate processes by which more distal individual differences and contextual antecedents affect employee innovation capabilities (West & Farr, 1989). An analysis of how distal antecedent factors influence expectations of outcomes and therefore employee innovative behaviour is important for at least two reasons. Firstly, it addresses the question of ‘how’ distal individual differences of employees and contextual factors affect employee innovation behaviour by examining the intermediate psychological processes. Secondly, it explains the sources of variance in employee performance and image outcome expectations across individuals and situations.
Without the intention of providing an all exclusive list, the following five distal antecedent factors were considered as especially important for employee innovation behaviour:
Perceived organization support for innovation,
supervisor relationship quality,
innovativeness as job requirement,
reputation as innovative, and
dissatisfaction with the status quo.
These aforementioned antecedents were chosen because they are among the most studied in the literature and they represent different angles to understand employee innovative behaviour. The five proximal antecedents were taken together to form the conceptual model for testing employee innovation behaviour in this dissertation.
Diagram of Conceptual Model for Employee Innovation Behaviour
Note: Except for all those links marked with negative signs, all other links in the model are hypothesized to be positive.
Source: Diagram adapted from Innovation and creativity at work: Psychological and organizational strategies by West & Farr (1990a)
2.6.1 Perceived Organization Support for Innovation
Organization support for innovation in terms of pro-innovation climate, resources, and time allocation, is one of the primary environmental qualities that promote innovation and creativity (Amabile, 1988; Kanter, 1988). This dissertation explores performance and image outcome expectations as important intermediate processes and tries to explain why such organization support affects innovative behaviour.
If an organizational environment favours change rather than tradition for its growth and development, its members will seek to initiate change in order to be culturally appropriate (Farr & Ford, 1990: 73). Similarly, an organizational climate that promotes innovation will encourage employee to engage in innovative behaviours because such climate legitimates experimentation (West & Wallace, 1991) and reduces image risk involved in such behaviours (Ashford et al., 1998). An organization climate promoting innovation delivers expectancies and instrumentalities (Scott & Bruce, 1994) so that the employees in that organization understand that being innovative is a desirable image. Reduced potential image loss risks and increased potential image gain environment encourage employees to engage in more innovative behaviours when perceived organization support for innovation is high.
Employees in an organization supporting innovation may want to engage in more innovative behaviours not only because of the potential image outcomes but also because they have higher expectations for positive performance outcomes resulting from such innovative behaviours. A favourable organization climate for innovation demonstrates the belief that innovation will benefit the organization in developing and achieve the pinnacle of success. Having such beliefs embedded in the culture of the organization will influence individual attitudes and beliefs through the organization and boost innovation processes. Schneider’s (1987) attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) framework suggests people attracted to and remaining in the organization are likely to be those individuals who share basic beliefs with the organization. Hence, it is logical to expect that compared with organisations not promoting innovative behaviours, people in organizations with pro-innovation climates are also more likely to have pro-innovation individual beliefs. In other words, they are more likely to be satisfied and believe that initiating innovations will benefit the efficiency and performance of their work. Such beliefs in positive performance outcomes serve as another motive for employee behaviour in the workplace.
The following hypothesis has been developed based on analysing the above literature on the social-political perspective of expected image of expected image outcomes –
Hypothesis 3(a): Perceived organization support for innovation is positively related to expected positive performance outcomes associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 3(b): Perceived organization support for innovation is negatively related to expected image risks associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 3(c): Perceived organization support for innovation is positively related to expected image gains associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
2.6.2 Supervisor Relationship Quality
A quality manager-employee relationship has been found out to be an important contextual factor on employee innovation and creativity (Scott & Bruce, 1994; Tierney, Farmer, & Graen, 1999). The prevalence of a quality relationship with supervisor will influence employee innovative behaviour indirectly through its influence on performance and image outcome expectations. A quality relationship between the managers and the employees will increase an employee’s belief that his or her innovative behaviour will result in performance and efficiency gains. The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory suggests that subordinates who have high-quality relationships with their supervisors are provided greater resources in the workplace (e.g., privileged information, work support) and decision latitude in return for greater loyalty and commitment (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen, 1976; Graen, Novak, & Sommerkamp, 1982). Therefore, employees with high-quality supervisor relationships are more likely to engage in innovative behaviour and be confident that their actions will result in performance and efficiency gains.
Desire and motivation of the employees influence what he or she perceives (Gilbert, 1998; Markus & Zajonc, 1985; Postman, Bruner, & McGinnies, 1948). Research studies undertaken previously shows that supervisors tend to evaluate the employees they like and trust in a more positive way (Cardy & Dobbins, 1986; Judge & Ferris, 1993; Wayne & Liden, 1995). When a supervisor likes and believes in the employee, he or she is more likely to think positively about the employee’s ideas and believe such ideas are meaningful and significant (Zhou & Woodman, 2003). Previous research on attributions concept indicates that when the supervisor likes or empathizes with his sub-ordinates, he or she is more likely to attribute positive outcomes to the sub-ordinates’s dispositional causes and negative outcomes to situational causes (Green & Mitchell, 1979; Regan, Straus, & Fazio, 1974; Regan & Totten, 1975). It is expected that good people will perform good actions, and bad people will perform bad actions. Thus when liked characters do good things or disliked actors do bad things, we attribute the action to characteristics of the character (Heider, 1958). Therefore, when perceiving a good relationship with the supervisor, an employee will feel more confident that his new ideas will receive acceptance and favourable evaluations from his supervisor, resulting in higher possibilities for image gains.
The following hypothesis has been developed based on analysing the above literature on the supervisor relationship quality –
Hypothesis 4(a): Supervisor relationship quality is positively related to expected positive performance outcomes associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 4(b): Supervisor relationship quality is negatively related to expected image risks associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 4(c): Supervisor relationship quality is positively related to expected image gains associated with innovative behaviour at the workplace.
2.6.3 Innovativeness as a Job Requirement
The requirements of a job have been identified by researchers as an activating force for innovation (Kanter, 1988) and a primary factor in inducing employee creativity (Shalley, Gilson, & Blum, 2000; Tierney & Farmer, 2002). This dissertation explores the mechanisms through which perceived job requirement for innovativeness encourages individual innovation by its influences on both expected performance and image outcomes. The innovative requirement of a job is determined not only by the objective nature of the job position (e.g., R&D scientists versus technicians) but also by the subjective attitude of the job holder, which can be influenced by factors including the job holder’s social environment as suggested by the social information processing theory (Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978). Perceived innovativeness as a part of job requirement will also encourage innovative behaviour by minimising the concerns for image risks and increasing image gain expectations. Firstly, it validates innovative behaviours as officially acceptable and socially appropriate. The job requirement serves as a contextual influence that justifies the employees’ innovative behaviour. Thus, the employees do not need to provide reasons to explain their innovative behaviours and do not need to be concerned about being seen as behaving inappropriately. Secondly, previous research evidence shows that an audience is less critical and more receptive to change-initiated or innovative behaviours from people whose functional background or job position supports such innovative behaviours. Ashford and colleagues (1998) found out in their research that functional background-issue fit negatively related to image risk from selling issues. In the same way, Daft (1978) found out that organizations appeared to adopt technical ideas from professionals (in that case, teachers) and administrative ideas from administrators. Applying the same logic here, managers and fellow co-workers will be more receptive to the innovative behaviours of employees in positions requiring innovativeness and will consider their new ideas as more valid and well-grounded, resulting in lower image risk and higher potential of image gain for the innovative employees.
The following hypothesis has been developed based on analysing the above literature on reputation of an employee as innovative –
Hypothesis 5(a): Innovativeness as job requirement is positively related to expected positive performance outcomes associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 5(b): Innovativeness as job requirement is negatively related to expected image risks associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
Hypothesis 5(c): Innovativeness as job requirement is positively related to expected image gains associated with employee innovation behaviour at the workplace.
2.6.4 Reputation of an Employee as Innovative
The employees are considered as more socially appropriate and legitimate when their behaviours match categorizations and expectations of the organisation where they work in (Zelditch, 2001). The existing literature on impression management suggests that the impressions people try to create are affected by their current image in the society (Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Schlenker, 1980). Behaviours which are consistent with the expectations and reputations (especially desirable ones) are socially legitimized, and behaviours against those expectations run the risk of being looked down upon by the people in the society.
The employees who are not expected to be